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Rise in breast cancer rates among young women spurring advances in therapy options

Dr. Greg Maggass
Dr. Gregory Maggass

June 30, 2011 - Premium content from Phoenix Business Journal - by Linda Obele

Dr. Greg Maggass and his radiation oncology colleagues at Arizona Breast Cancer Specialists are finding success using the TrueBeam laser and brachytherapy radiation delivery methods.

The high-precision, image-guided TrueBeam laser delivers radiation treatments up to 50 percent faster and at twice the maximum doses of earlier industry-leading systems, Maggass said. Patients experience fewer side effects and are finished within 20 minutes, he said.

For patients with early-stage breast cancer, Maggass said brachytherapy is a popular option. It kills cancer cells by delivering concentrated doses of radiation through multiple catheters inserted directly into the tissue surrounding the cancer site.

Brachytherapy, which is administered following a lumpectomy, can be completed in twice-daily appointments over five days, compared with six weeks of other types of radiation treatments. That's a big selling point, especially for younger women.

"Just knowing it's over with in five days, and that they don't have to wait and wonder, makes a big difference in their quality of life," Maggass said. That treatments also can be used on women with breast implants.

CTCA's Flynn said doctors also are encouraged by early results of a new type of treatment: intraoperative radiation therapy, which irradiates the breast during a lumpectomy, instead of waiting several weeks for the surgical wound to heal. The treatment is being used by doctors at CTCA's Philadelphia facility and is expected to be offered in Phoenix within the year, he said.

In the pharmaceutical realm, newer medications called targeted therapies are being used to block the growth and spread of certain cancers by interfering with specific molecules.

Herceptin is one such drug. It targets cancer cells containing human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 proteins (known as Her2) to kill the cell and decrease the risk of recurrence. The drug often is used with the aggressive Her2-positive cancers that attack younger women.